Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Ethics of Cog Sci

Unfortunately, because my degree program in Cognitive Science is in science (instead of the humanities) there isn't any room for an ethics class. There is however room for the mandatory Calculus I and II. I hope that comes in handy, considering statistics was rejected from my final degree proposal. On the other hand I could have taken an ethics course as a general education requirement. Well possibly... after transferring between schools with completely different gneral education requirements, in order to pursue the BS in Cognitive Science; I don't know if I can blame myself.

In late night conversations in smoke filled rooms my friends and I talk about the future, and ethics of Cognitive Science. It is my hope that after I graduate I can do lab-research in the field. Perhaps eye tracking, an ERP lab, machine learning, doing work with games, or some other cognitive psychology laboratory. A question always arises "Why"? Why would one want to continue research in such a field? Usually the interrogator of the question is concerned that technology will eventually lead to humanity's downfall, "the end of the world". I do not necessarily disagree. 

I have often been criticized about how I use what I know about how people work in every day situations. When I explained to my friend that if I am in a club, sometimes I will approach a woman with another woman around my arm. The reason for this is building social report, simply put, if this person is invested in me, than there must be a good reason why. My friend told me that I was being sexist and manipulative. I argue that if after approaching someone with a friend, if I can get that person to open up to me, and have a meaningful relationship with them, then there is nothing wrong with what I am doing.

On the other hand, I could just as well take her home for the night. Is this still manipulative? Even after a string of other social engineering techniques? No, pinking up women isn't necessarily Cognitive Science; I would argue it is more social engineering, which I would argue can be a part of Cog Sci. The point I am getting at is that is just like any other form of technology, Cognitive Science could be used for good and bad. Yes computers can provide us with a wealth of information, but they've also proved quite well at collecting off of our personal information, and as much as they bring us together, they drive us farther apart through isolation, etceteria, etceteria.

The question remains, why is it important that we know what human eyes pay most attention to, and for how long, why do we need to know if the sound of a beer bottle opening triggers more brain activity in a alcoholic than an average person, why do we need to have computers that can "think" on their own. Obviously nothing good can come fro technology like this, and will only be exploited more by people like advertisers.

And the reason I give is a personal philosophy. It is that if heaven could ever exist, it would have to be manifested here on Earth. If we are ever going to achieve such a state, we need to understand how we operate, why we do the things we do. We need to understand that we operate on the same brains we had when we were cavemen; and that's why we are aggressive, why we believe in ancient superstitions, why our genitals control actions we make, when the woman in the club sees me approach her with another woman in my arm and recognizes what is happening.

Being able to understand the ways in which the cognitive biases, and facilities we make affect our judgement is a form of transcendence. If man can't understand that, than I believe that he deserves to be pruned from existence. Not necessarily "the end of the world", the end of the human race. The earth is 4.54 billion years old, we're 200,000 years old. Whatever we can cook up I am sure the planet can handle it.


  1. "The earth is 4.54 billion years old, we're 200,000 years old. Whatever we can cook up I am sure the planet can handle it."

    And if not, the planet just have to destroy us with some earthquakes and shit.

  2. The alternative to picking up women with your knowledge is to do things that you know either won't help, or would be detrimental. I don't get the other side of the argument, knowledge of what you're doing and how people react is better than ignorance on the matter.

  3. Why don't you start research now? I started in my first year by basically spamming the inboxes of all the profs in the department asking if they were taking students.

    Trust me, getting into Grad school will be a lot easier if you've had some prior experience. At least, that's what I've been told.